Magical Odisha – An Architectural and Cultural Odyssey

Odisha located on the eastern seaboard of India has long been known for its rich culture and heritage. Celebrated as Kalinga kingdom in the historical time, Odisha was once an important maritime nation. Odisha’s Sadhavas (merchants) often would make sea voyages to carry out trade with the merchants of Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Siam, Cambodia and Sri Lanka and bring enough wealth. Through these mercantile communities, Odisha also had made profound cultural expansion in Southeast Asia, which is evident among numerous Hindu and Buddhist art of the region. A comparison of Odisha’s historic art with Southeast Asia’s Hindu and Buddhist sculptures show strong cultural ties between the two regions.

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The Golden Sea beach of Puri at the time of Sunrise

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Odisha’s Wall Murals at Nuapatna Village

For an appreciation of Odisha’s heritage and to narrate the stories of Odisha recently Virasat E Hind Foundation had conducted its first curated trip for four guests from the National Museum of Thailand at Bangkok. It was the brainchild of our esteemed friend Ms Anita Bose who also worked as a volunteer in the museum until recently.  Though the guests are based in Bangkok at the moment they represent diverse nationality, Beverly from the United States, Cathy from the UK, Nathalie from France and Tasnee from Thailand.

The trip was for 5 days, part of an 11 day East India Tour, which also included West Bengal, Anita’s home state, apart from Odisha. In Odisha, the trip was conducted in the golden triangle (Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konark), Buddhist excavated sites at Ratnagiri and Udayagiri, the royal heritage of Dhenkanal, Joranda, the global headquarter of Mahima Cult, Dhauli, the battle site of Kalinga, Ragurajpur, Odisha’s craft village, Nuapatna textile cluster and Dokra craft of Saptasajya. The logistic support for the trip was provided by Discovery Tours and Travel, Bhubaneswar.

The trip had been designed to showcase Odisha’s diverse heritage in a capsule, from culture to heritage, forest and mountains, art and craft and food.

Visitors arrived from Kolkata in an early morning flight and they were received with a hearty welcome.

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Receiving the guests at Bhubaneswar Airport

Our first destination was Dhauli, the battle site of Kalinga. Dhauli is also where the story of Odisha begins. At the break of the dawn, the site of Dhauli is transformed into a mystical aura overlooking the Daya River, which was the stage of Kalinga battle. You become a time flyer visualizing how the site would have looked 2,300 years before at the time of the battle and Emperor Ashoka gave up his arms while surrendering to the eight noble paths of Buddhism.

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At Dhauli Battle Site in the Early Morning

Our next stop was the Yogini Temple at Hirapur, one of the four open-air circular shrines dedicated to Tantric Yogini worship in the whole of India. Some of the Yoginis at Hirapur look terrific with their Tantric gesture and attire. Our guests also offered puja at the shrine and were narrated about the Tantric practice in Odisha in the historical era. The temple is dated to 9th century.

After visiting the Yogini temple, we headed for Ranch Restaurant to relish an Indian breakfast. It was also the occasion for a chit chat and to know the interest of the guests better.

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The next stop was at Raghurajpur, Odisha’s craft village. Sri Gangadhar Maharana, Odisha’s finest patachitra artist had been intimated before. Our guests strolled through the open-air art corridor of Raghurajpur and interacted with several artisans and finally spent considerable time at Gangadhar Ji’s house to see his innovations for the art. We also narrated the origin and evolution of patachitra art and what makes it unique among all Odia crafts. Anita also has written a book on Patachitra and Jagannath cult. The next surprise was the Gotipua dance. The young boys had dressed up like girls and performed stunning dance sequences before us for about 30 mins. It was the highlight of the day. Our guests were simply astounded.

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At Raghurajpur

We headed for Puri for the check-in at Cocopalm Resort, which is sea facing on the Beach Road.

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On day 2 the early morning was spent at the golden beach of Puri experiencing various morning activities in the beach and fishermen delving into the deep sea.

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At Golden Beach in Puri

After a lavish breakfast in the hotel, we headed for Konark, Odisha’s only world heritage monument and an epic in stone. Our guests were taken on a journey through its art corridors. It was magnificent glowing under the morning sun. After spending an hour we visited the recently built Konark Interpretation Centre and explored Konark’s history, legend, art, architecture and also about history and monuments associated with Sun worship of India. Watching a documentary film on Konark in a cosy theatre was an experience by itself.

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At Konark

After relishing a delicious meal at the seaside Lotus Resort we returned to Puri for a brief nap. In the evening we again travelled to Konark to witness Odissi Dance at Konark Kala Mandap. Thanks to the gesture of Anita, Abhada, the mahaprasad of Lord Jagannath had been arranged in the hotel.

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On Day 3 we explored the temples of Bhubaneswar in the morning. Our guests were narrated about the idea behind Hindu temples, their meaning and in particular about Kalinga temples, their architectural styles, legends, history and cultural significance. We saw Brahmeswar, Parasurameswar and Mukteswar temples.

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In Bhubaneswar Temples

After visiting the temples we headed for Odisha Hotel in Lewis Road to relish a sumptuous Odia thali. It was grand with all ingredients of an Odia meal, badi chura, chenna tarkari, kakharu phula bhaja, tomato khata, patra poda machha, and rasagola. All our guests enjoyed the food very much.

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After lunch, we went to visit the towering Lingaraj Temple, the highest achievement of Kalinga temples. The next surprise was a visit to the Odisha Craft Museum, one of the finest museums in the country showcasing the region’s finest art and craft heritage.  Our visitors were thrilled while taken through a journey of Odisha’s timeless craft culture.

After a coffee break in the museum, we travelled to Dhenkanal for the night stay.

Everyone was surprised when we entered through the ramp and the majestic gate of the royal palace. No one had ever thought that they would get a chance to stay in a royal palace. It turned out to be a wonderful experience for all our guests.

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Next day was the longest journey to the Buddhist corridor. After breakfast, we headed for Udayagiri and then Ratnagiri, both excavated Buddhist sites having much artistic splendour of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. It was almost an emotional journey for all our guests specialising in Buddhism and its art.

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At Udayagiri, Ratnagiri and Joranda

In the evening while returning back we spent an hour at Joranda’s Sunya Temple, the seat of Mahima Cult, a 19th-century religious movement which rejected the Hindu orthodox practises and emphasized on the nirakara (god without form) philosophy. Our guests got a chance to interact with resident monks who are known for their simplicity having matted hair and wearing the bark of trees.

Our last day of the trip was spent at Dhenkanal’s Dokra village and at Nuapatna textile cluster. The highlight of the day was having interaction with Sri Sarat Patra, Nuapatna’s most respectful and talented weaver. The trip ended with the shopping of stoles and saree at his shop.

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At Dokra Village and Nuapatna with Sri Sarat Patra

In the words of Beverly Frankel

I want to tell you how much I appreciated your knowledge, guidance and friendship throughout our February trip in Odisha’s many architectural and cultural sites. As “Culture Vultures” from the National Museum Volunteers in Bangkok, we adored being able to experience the beautiful villages you showed us for the Patachitra paintings, Odisha dancers, batik and ikat weavers and bronze cast makers.  The religious contrast between the majestic temples of Konark and Bhubeneshwar’s Lingaraj, etc and the Aleka Mahini settlement was amazing to see the range of devotional activities.

Ashok’s conversion to Buddhism retold by murals, stone engravings, and the Buddhist sites of Udaigiri and Ratnagiri were unforgettable. Appreciated especially was our arrangement to spend the night in the old Palace in Dhenkanal.  It was magical –  dining in the garden and living in the spacial splendour of the old rooms. The seaside of Puri and life in the markets and streets of our journey were added delights.

Thank you for making it all possible and guiding us with your vast range of knowledge.

 

Satpada – Chilika’s finest Magnum Opus

A legend goes: In the distant past, Raktabahu was a pirate king, who had a plan to rob the Jagannath Temple at Puri. He arrived at the coast of Odisha with a huge fleet of ships. Assessing his wicked intention, the seawater moved backwards, making anchoring impossible for the pirate army. Out of anger, Raktabahu attacked the sea, which in turn washed him away with a part of it. That detached part of the sea according to local belief is the Chilika Lake of today.

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Satpada in the northern part of Chilika is believed to be the place where Raktabahu had arrived. A meeting point of rivers, rivulets, fishing villages and Irrawaddy dolphins at Satpada, nature has created one of its best magnum opuses. Shredded in mysteries, the land has a deep connection with Jagannath Cult.

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MANGALAJODI– WHERE ASHOKA IS BORN AND DIES EVERY OTHER DAY

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According to a legend, the daughter of the king of Kanchi was engaged to the Gajapati King of Puri. When the king of Kanchi met the Gajapati, the later was in the act of sweeping in front of chariots of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra. Considering the act of sweeping offensive of a king the king of Kanchi declined the marriage proposal refusing to marry his daughter to a sweeper.

Gajapati Purusattama Dev felt deeply insulted and decided to rage a war against the Kanchi King. However, he was unsuccessful.

Travel Tips

Satpada is located at a distance of 45 km from Puri in the southern direction and 100 km from Bhubaneswar. There are a few budget staying options at Satpada including the OTDC Yatri Nivas. However for a unique experience tryout Nature Camp at Rajhans Beach. The package includes overnight stay, food, boat pick up and drop from Satpada, nature trek and dolphin sightings. If you don’t want stay, you can hire a 3-hour boat ride from OTDC counter at Satpada for dolphin sightings and a brief halt at Rajhans. While at Satpada, try out the local seafood delicacies, which includes crabs and prawns.

 

Upon his defeat, the Gajapati King returned to Puri and prayed Lord Jagannath. Moved by his prayer, Jagannath and Balabhadra left their temple at Puri and started an expedition to Kanchi on horseback. Near Satpada, they felt thirsty and chanced upon the milkmaid Manika, who gave them yoghurt to quench their thirst. Instead of paying her dues, Balabhadra gave her a ring telling her to claim her dues from king Purusattama Dev. At Adipur, near Satpada, Manika stopped the king pleading for the unpaid cost of yoghurt. She produced the gold ring as evidence. Considering this a sign of divine support of his campaign, the king enthusiastically led the expedition and defeated the Kanchi King. After the victory, the Gajapati King brought back the princess Padmavati to Puri and married her during next Rath Yatra before the idol of Lord Jagannath.

Also, Read Here:

SOUTH CHILIKA COAST – BACK IN TIME

Satpada today is a traveller’s paradise mainly for the 100 odd endangered Irrawaddy dolphins that are sighted in the tranquil blue water here. Irrawaddy dolphins are a critically endangered species having a bulging forehead and 12 to 19 teeth on each side of both jaws. They are also found in Mekong River and Borneo. In Mekong River, they are regarded as sacred animals by both Khmer and Lao people.

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Dolphins at Satpada are best sighted in the morning before its placid water bed gets crowded by tourists.

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Satpada has plenty of charms for a curious traveller. It is a wonderland for those interested in fishing and discovering the life of fishermen.

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Asia’s largest brackish water lake Chilika has an abundance of crabs, prawns and a variety of fish. Nets and traps are the common gears used for fishing in the brackish lake. While nets are used to harvest fish, traps are used for prawns and crabs. The fishing boats are plank-built flat bottomed ones known as naha.

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Among the traps, bamboo traps are most common. An essential accessory to these traps is thette, which is a bamboo screen measuring 40 ft x 4 feet and serves as a pathway for prawns to move in the directions of traps. They are generally set in the lake in the evening and removed in the morning when the catch is taken out. Traps are completely dried before resetting in the evening.

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Satpada is a timeless romance. A one and half hour boat ride transport you into a noman’s beach amidst the wilderness of the coastal forest and miles and miles of sandy beach. The beach is Rajhans, where time seems to have taken a halt.

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The one and half hour boat journey one way is filled with excitement at every turn. You pass by many scenic villages and fishermen engaged in various stages of fishing. Cormorants and Brahminy Kites eyeing for fish sitting on bamboo posts add icing on the cake to your journey. For a moment you become the king of an untamed water territory and your subjects are not humans, but elements of nature, birds and fish.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

Sahi Jatra – Puri’s Holy Carnival

12th – 13th Centuries India! While on one end India was witnessing a renaissance through emerging traditions of classical art and culture on the other end there used to be constant threats from invading iconoclast sultans of Delhi in pursuit of their political ambitions.  We all know how Devagiri, the wealthiest capital of Yadavas became Daulatabad in Deccan and how the great Shiva Temple built by the Kakatiyas in Warangal Fort turned from its splendour into shattered ruins.

The holy city of Puri and its famed Jagannath Temple was also in the wish list for invasions. The protection of the city and the temple had become prime responsibility of Gajapati King Chodaganga Deva, who was also the builder of the present Jagannath Temple in the 12th century CE. For this, the king had established many Kotas (fortress) and Jaga Gharas (gymnasiums) to train youths as safeguarders of Puri and the Jagannath Temple. Jaga Gharas were established in 9 of its oldest sahis (neighbourhood streets) which are continued till present though through several alterations made from time to time. Most probably, Jaga is derived from the word jagarana (to keep awake).

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Some of these sahis having Jaga Gharas are Bali Sahi, Dola Mandapa Sahi, Hara Chandi Sahi, Kundei Benta Sahi, Mani Karnika Sahi, Mati Mandapa Sahi, and so on. While Lord Hanuman (Mahaveer) is commonly worshipped, each Jaga Ghara also has a presiding deity of its own.

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Monks, Monasteries and Murals – A Photo Story on Puri’s Two Legendary Mathas

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The character of a Jaga Ghara is having a temple for its presiding deity, a gymnasium and a pond to perform various rituals. Men of all ages come here for bodybuilding, to bathe in the pond, gossip or playing a Ganjapa card game. In the temple, Lord Hanuman is worshipped along with the presiding deity of the respective Jaga Ghara.

Travel Tips

Puri is a well-known pilgrimage site for Hindus and celebrated as one of the four supreme dhams. The holy city of Lord Jagannath is well connected by rail and road and forms part of the golden triangle in Odisha for tourists world over, the other two places in the triangle are Konark and Bhubaneswar. The nearest international airport is located in Bhubaneswar, 65 km away. Puri abounds in sites for both spiritual and adventure seeking souls. Every street of Puri and its surrounding villages has something to offer whether it is food, craft, ethnic life, devotion or spirituality. Its sea beach is one of the most celebrated beaches of India on the Bay of Bengal and a drive through the Puri – Konark marine drive is one of the most memorable experiences for a traveller. 

Puri is full of hotels and restaurants to suit all budgets. While at Puri don’t forget to eat mahaprasada, the food offering to Lord Jagannath on a daily basis. 

To experience Sahi Jatra in Puri, one has to visit here during Ram Navami in the month of March/April. Check out the calendar before you plan to visit.  

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Starting from the day of Ram Navami and continued for eleven days all these Jaga Gharas and the sahis celebrate a grand carnival every night, locally known as Sahi Jatra.

Also, Read Here:

Dola Jatra – The other Rath Yatra

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The Sahi Jatra of a particular Sahi starts its procession to its competitor Sahi or Badi Sahi. For example, Bali Sahi is the Badi Sahi of Hara Chandi Sahi. Suppose today the procession of Bali Sahi goes to Hara Chandi Sahi and displays their performances on the next day the procession of Hara Chandi Sahi goes to Bali Sahi for the performance. In Sahi Jatra, all the members of Jaga Gharas take part.

Also, Read Here:

Osakothi Rituals in Ganjam – An Anthropological Journey

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Partly militant and partly religious, the themes of Sahi Jatra are the episodes of the Ramayana.  The non-winding procession of various mythological characters crawls through all major crossings, lanes and by-lanes of Puri’s major and oldest sahis throughout the 11 nights. The characters include Naga, Durga, Kali, Parasurama, Rama, and demons like Ravana, Navasira, Saptasira and Trisira, and various local deities.

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One of the main attractions of Sahi Jatras is the procession of Nagas and Medha dances. The performers go through rigorous training in their respective Jaga Ghahras for a couple of days before the commencement of the Jatra.

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Adorned with medhas, silver jewellery and masks of respective character and accompanied by acrobats, tumblers and drummers, each participant displays his valour and strength to fullest. Among these characters, the key attraction is, however, Naga.

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Naga is associated with the Nagarjuna Vesa of Lord Jagannath which is usually done in a leap year when the five days of Panchuka becomes six days during the holy Kartik month. In Nagarjuna Vesa, the lord is decorated like a warrior honouring Parasurama, the warrior incarnation of Lord Vishnu.  The Naga dance seems to have originated from this tradition. It showcases the martial or warrior dance of victory.

Usually young and energetic men are preferred for the Naga character. He wears a huge headgear profusely decorated with silver jewellery and false beard almost covering the face. Multi-coloured arrows attached in two bamboo sticks are tightly fitted to the arms. On his waist portion, several weapons like shield, dagger and knife are placed. He wears a rosary around the neck. On the back portion of the figure, a bamboo mat can be seen which is tied on his body. With the jerky movement of the shoulders, he dances in heroic steps. Sometimes he holds a gun. He moves at the front of the procession along with the drummers who provide rhythm to his movement.

People also encourage participants with clapping and cheering words. While the rehearsal is in full swing, some other community members, especially ones with artistic skills are engaged in decorating and painting fresh murals on street walls, community space and temples. Colourful and fancy street lighting is also arranged for the carnival.

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On the evening of Ram Navami, the procession of Rama and his three brothers along with their teacher Rishi Vishwamitra starts from Kalika Devi Sahi. In a decorated horse chariot the group first visit Lord Jagannath Temple for blessing and then proceed to Rajabati, the palace of Gajapati King located on the Grant Road (Bada Danda). Hundreds of people are gathered to witness and participate in the procession.

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On the 12th day, the Sahi Jatra ends with Ravana’s death. Even on that day Ravana visits Lord Jagannath Temple and offers red hibiscus flower to the Lord. Later that day after the Sandhya Dhoopa rituals, idols of Rama and Lakshman are kept on Ratnasingahsan and then carried to Jagannatha Ballav Math for Ravana Vadha Ritual.

Sahi Jatra of Puri is a unique cultural institution showcasing community participation. Apart from being fun and entertainment, it reminds us we are all equal before the Almighty and harmony should be the only motto for our living.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Charu Maa – The Face of Durga Maa

Our story starts in the 7th century CE Bhubaneswar! It was the time in Indian history when the personification of ideas came to be institutionalized.  One such idea was Nataraj, the cosmic dance of Lord Shiva, which you find profusely in temple walls of Bhubaneswar. Why Nataraj – for me the answer could be the metaphoric representation of destruction that depicts the other side of the sea which is otherwise gentle and calm through most of the year.  The other idea was Maa Durga – the metaphoric representation of women power, for which Eastern India is widely celebrated.


Goddess Durga in Parasurameswara Temple – 7th Century CE

Lord Nataraj in Parasumeswara Temple 7th Century CE

Maa Durga in Cuttack 

1999 super cyclone that had devastated millions of lives, both humans and domestic animals in coastal Odisha. Lord Shiva had shown his extreme form, tandav leela. It was one of the darkest moments in Odisha’s modern history. It took years to recover what Odisha had lost. But the lesson learnt not only made Odias cautious but Odisha became a successful model for disaster management worldwide.  Much has been written and filmed about Odisha’s adorable initiatives in cyclone management, but very little about Charu Maa, a woman in her 50s from Gudalaba Village near Astarang on the coast of Bay of Bengal. You see the face of Durga Maa in her, who has been leading a group of 90 women from her village consisting of both Hindus and Muslims for the protection of forest and wildlife from the time their village was devastated in the wrath of 1999 cyclone.

Travel Tips

Gundalba Village is located in Astarang Block of Puri District at a distance of 10 km from Astarang. On your way to Gundalaba Village, you can also visit Pir Jahania Beach and the revered Sufi shrine and trek through the dense Casuarina Forest. Remember, there is no public transport facility here. You have to arrange your own vehicle to reach here. Gundalba is located at a distance of 70 km from Bhubaneswar and 55 km from Puri. The world heritage site of Konark is only 30 km away. 

There is no stay option here. But with prior information and local contact accommodation for a night stay can be arranged at Forest Rest House. There are also plan for tented accommodation in the near future by Ecotourism Wing of Odisha Tourism. With prior information, food can be arranged at the sight with the speciality of seafood. 


Charu Maa in the left at Gundalba Village

 

 

 

 

Gudalaba is a small village of farmers and fisherfolk near the Sufi shrine of Pir Jahania at a stone throw distance from the sea. A thick forest of Casuarinas separates the sea from the village. To the north of the village is a network of creeks of Devi River which meets the Bay of Bengal at Sahana. Nature’s paradise, the beach is also part of the rookery of Olive Ridley Turtles.  The casuarinas trees, a native of Australia had been introduced more than a century ago by the British to prevent sea erosion. However, ecologists have a different viewpoint. According to whom, the alien trees have been least protectors from sea erosion. These have only become a good source of fuel. On the other hand once dominated by hundreds of species of native mangroves, now most of it lost, thanks to intensive shrimp farming and agriculture. The loss of mangroves is taking toll of destruction year after year.  

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Sahana Beach and Devi Mouth – Odisha’s Best Kept Secret


Pir Jahanaia Sufi Shrine


Pir Jahania Beach


An abandoned boat at Pir Jahania Beach


An abandoned house at Pir Jahania Beach – Behind it the thick Casuarina Forest


Casuarina Forest


Depleting Mangrove Forests and Estuaries 

 


Near Devi Mouth


Commercial Fishing in Devi Mouth


Subsistence Fishing in Devi Mouth 


Intensive Rice Farming – The Harvesting Season


Harvest of Gold

Gudalaba has also been a nurturing ground for ideas related to wildlife conservation and sustainable living. Here you meet Bichhi, the turtle man, who has dedicated his life for the conservation of Ridley Olive Turtles. You also meet a group of youngsters led by Soumya Ranjan Biswal, who are continuously engaged in generating awareness on beach cleaning and environmental protection.


Conservation of Olive Ridley Turtle – a severe environmental issue – This one is one of the first deaths sighted this season due to trawlers movement

 

It was on 4th November night I was first introduced to Charu Maa at her residence and while talking to her I felt the best geography teacher I have ever met in my life. There is so much of understanding about sustainable living that we have taken for granted as dwellers of large cities. I heard the first-hand experience coping the most severe disaster in the living memory of Odisha. I saw the face of Durga Maa in Charu Maa. It was decided to film her interview on the daylight the next day along with her other women companions.


An early morning scene at Devi Mouth 

Here is what she narrates:

Charu Maa has turned crises into opportunities and it is an eye-opener for each of us. Truly she celebrates the idea of Durga Maa.      

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

The Slow Death of Odisha’s Living Marine Heritage; the Olive Ridley Turtles

The Balighai beach is a beautiful pristine place to be. Located 8 kilometres away, on the northeastern side of Puri, it is on the mouth of the Nuanai River. The confluence can be seen on the Konark-Puri Marine Drive and I stopped there on my way back from Konark. The long, smooth stretch of golden sands was too tempting to pass by on the river and in the sea at an alluring embrace. Not a single soul could be seen on the beach, and it’s a pleasant break after the crowd at Konark temples.

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But as they say, because of the first impression, because the Balighai beach upon my reaching there, turned out to be a graveyard for turtles. The carcasses lay as far as eyes could see and the pathetic bodies were mostly beheaded. It was a shocking sight, one made in my track and made a hasty exit from there. The shocking sight haunted me for many days, and I decided to do some research to find out the reason. The truth turned out to be a horrible tale of human greed, misinformed bureaucrats, and twisted government policies.

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The Balighai beach is a nesting site for the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles. Pairs of mating sea turtles arriving on sea waters, mark the start of the breeding and nesting season of these endangered marine creatures. The mating season ends with most of the male turtles returning, leaving behind the female turtles to lay their eggs. The female turtles on the beach at night.

After the mass egg laying, the turtles return to the sea, leaving the hatchlings to emerge after 45-60 days, sans mother. An Olive Ridley usually lays about 120 to 150 eggs at a time, but not all become hatchlings. The mortality rate of these endangered species is quite high and the eggs have many predators. High tides so wash away many eggs in the sea and the alarming plight do not end there.

During the mating season, when the turtles come close to the beach, most of them get entangled in the gills and the asphyxiation. 20 minutes from the beach.

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Olive Ridley’s the biggest killer of the Odisha is a silent one and most of these endangered marine creatures are from ghost nets. A huge threat, which is creating a massacre in the marine world everywhere, ghost nets are fishing lost or discarded at sea. Every year, these animals are responsible for trapping and killing millions of marine animals, including sharks, rays, bony fish, turtles, dolphins, whales, crustaceans, and birds.

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Since ghost nets drift with ocean currents for years, travelling huge distances, their deadly effects can be felt from the point of origin. Ghost fishing for killing marine animals in a process called “ghost fishing”. The entanglement in ghost nets often results in suffocation, starvation, amputations of limbs, and, eventually, the death of a marine animal.

A drifting ghost net entangled with a carcass sinks to the bottom of the ocean. On the sea floor, other marine animals and natural decomposition get rid of the carcass, after which the ghost net floats back to repeat the deadly cycle. The durability of modern fishing nets enhances the longevity of this circle of destruction and Indian coastline, especially in the east is strewn with these remnants.

Ironically, Oliver Ridley sea turtles have a peculiar nesting habit. The females Olive Ridley turtles return in large numbers to the same beaches from which they first hatched. Odisha unbroken coastline is the largest nesting site for Oliver Ridley turtles in the world and here is hoping that someone out there pays attention before the state loses its important marine heritage.

Author – Svetlana Baghwan

svetlana Svetlana is a mother, writer, entrepreneur, traveler, foodie and an animal lover. An ex-flight attendant living in Cairo, Egypt, she has explored more than 35 countries as a solo woman traveler. Experiencing and exploring are her passion and she loves to tell stories. More about Svetlana here: http://www.maverickbird.com/

Etching Krishna and his Childhood

Tall and short, the tree grows in abundance on the coast of Odisha, both in a cluster and in solitary.  It is one of the palm trees, in Odia called Tala Gachha. The tree may not have cultural or religious significance unlike the sacred banyan tree but its leaves are the most sought after material for creative experimentation to illustrate Hindu gods, goddesses and their leela.

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From childhood, I have been well acquainted with the art and also with talapatra pothis or palm leaf manuscripts as it is referred to in English. Talapatra pothis are traditionally used to write horoscopes and its history can be traced back to the beginning of Odisha’s history.

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Depiction of Horoscope Writing in a Patachitra

However, in historical records, we have only from the 17th century now mostly preserved in the State Museum at Bhubaneswar. This may be due to the humid tropical weather of Odisha we have lost the earlier ones.

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A historical Pothi Chitra from 18th/19th-century exhibit at Odisha State Museum, Bhubaneswar

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Specialized tools known as lekhani – Exhibit at Kalabhoomi, Bhubaneswar

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Among the contemporary talapatra pothi chitra one of the most stunning and richly illustrated that I have come across is a pankha (hand fan) exhibit at ODIART Purvasha Museum in Chilika. Narrating the story of Lord Krishna and his leela in a multitude of colours the talapathra pothi chitra pankha is a treat to eyes. The creator of the pankha is noted patachitra artist Bijaya Parida.

Travel Tips

ODIART Purvasha Museum is located at Barkul on Lake Chilika at a distance 100 km from Bhubaneswar and 70 km from Berhampur, the largest city in Southern Odisha. The museum is strategically located in a major tourism hub on the National Highway that connects Kolkata with Chennai and closes to the rail route connecting Eastern India with the rest of Southern and Western India. The nearest airport is in Bhubaneswar, which is a 2-hour drive from the museum.

The museum has limited accommodation facility at the moment (only 4 rooms) for visitors to stay, but the nearby Barkul has varying staying options in a property managed by Odisha Tourism Development Corporation.

Besides the museum and a scenic boat ride in Lake Chilika, a traveller can also explore the rustic rural life of fisherfolk and farmers and the historic temple of Dakshya Prajapati at nearby Banapur. Chilika is also a heaven for seafood lovers. With prior intimation, the museum can arrange delicious ethnic lunch at its premises.

Contact Details

Odiart Centre, Barakul, Balugaon,
Khordha, Odisha-752030
Contact No-9439869009,  9853242244
Email : odiartchilika@gmail.com

Also, Read Here:

Celebrating Seasons in Patachitra – a Tribute to an Artist’s Dream and Passion

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The pankha is a pinnacle of traditional Odia creation, but its process starts in nature.

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A tall Palm Tree

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Freshly cut leaves from a Palm Tree

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Dried leaves before they are processed for pothi chitra making

During my travel to Nayakapatna village near Raghurajpur in Puri District, I had got a chance how and who procure the leaves, process them before they appear in zigzag folds of yellow-green leaves. A special set of tools known as lekhani are used for etching the processed leaves. It is not an easy task. You need patience and perfection. First, it is drawn in a pencil and then in a lekhani. Colours are filled at the end. The style is influenced by patachitra painting.

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A stack of palm leaves

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A woman in the cutting and sizing process

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After the Cutting and Sizing with the help of various tools

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An artisan at work

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An artisan at etching work using a lekhani

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The pankha is made up four concentric circles out of which the outer three are filled in illustrations depicting Krishna’s all childhood episodes, mystical beasts, flora and fauna and geometrical patterns. Even the handle is not spared. The innermost circle has the depiction of patra-lata (vegetal motifs).

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It’s Process

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Looking closely at this masterpiece time and again I am reminded of how incredible Odia art has been for centuries. However, sadly with the penetration of foreign goods, especially the Chinese market the glory is fading away at a pace that was never thought up before. But there is hope as long as there is a support of museums like Purvasha and art connoisseurs. Fingers crossed!

Author- Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

Monks, Monasteries and Murals – A Photo Story on Puri’s Two Legendary Mathas

Puri, the abode of Lord Jagannath is widely celebrated as a supreme Hindu Tirtha for its legendary Jagannath cult. Everyday Puri is visited by thousands of devotees from all over India for darshan of the Hindu Trinity at Jagannath Temple.

The present Jagannath Temple may be a 12th-century structure testifying the highest achievement of Kalinga School Architecture, but the celebration of Puri or Srikshetra as a Hindu Tirtha goes back to much earlier time. For example, Gobardhana Matha located in Swarga Dwara had been founded by Adi Sankaracharya in 8th Century CE as a centre of learning and culture. From then on mathas or monasteries have been playing an important role in performing seva or duty for Lord Jagannath. There are a large number of mathas belonging to different sects located around Jagannath Temple. Mahantas head these monastic institutions, who are also the spiritual preceptors of many followers of the sect. These mathas are treated as social infrastructure located within historic residential neighbourhoods or shais where monks, austerities, bhikkhus and devotees stay to practice meditation for spiritual growth.

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Bada Odia Matha

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The Mahanta of Bada Odia Matha

Once covered with murals profusely with time there are only two monasteries left where one can trace the evolution of Puri paintings although in highly faded condition.

Also, Read Here:

Raghurajpur – An Open Air Museum

Travel Tips

Puri is a well-known pilgrimage site for Hindus and celebrated as one of the four supreme dhams. The holy city of Lord Jagannath is well connected by rail and road and forms part of the golden triangle in Odisha for tourists world over, the other two places in the triangle are Konark and Bhubaneswar. The nearest international airport is located in Bhubaneswar, 65 km away. Puri abounds in sites for both spiritual and adventure seeking souls. Every street of Puri and its surrounding villages has something to offer whether it is food, craft, ethnic life, devotion or spirituality. Its sea beach is one of the most celebrated beaches of India on the Bay of Bengal and a drive through the Puri – Konark marine drive is one of the most memorable experiences for a traveller. 

Puri is full of hotels and restaurants to suit all budgets. While at Puri don’t forget to eat mahaprasada, the food offering to Lord Jagannath on a daily basis. 

The Bada Odia Matha

The Bada Odia Matha has the largest concentration of Puri paintings on its walls drawn in the 19th century. This matha was established by Atibadi Jagannath Das in the 15th Century CE. He was a great religious poet and composed the Odia Bhagwat. The image of Atibadi Jagannath Das is preserved in the matha. Jagannath was the intimate disciple of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and founder of Atibadi sect of Vaishnavism. The Odia Matha makes arrangement for pankti bhoga in the Jagamohana during Rukminiharana festival and supplies kala sari (black cloth) to Goddess Vimala. It is also vested with the duty of cleaning the Ratnavedi and supplying of canopy for the inner sanctuary and the pillows for the Lord. The matha provides trimundi chandua and silk cloths for chaka apasara, til oil for phooluri neeti, oil and ghee for Deva Deepavali.

Also, Read Here:

Sahi Jatra – Puri’s Holy Carnival

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Portrait of Atibadi Jagannath Das

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Inside of the Monastery profusely painted with murals

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More than life-size murals of Lord Vishnu, Krishna and Rama with their consorts and allies, the matha boasts some of the finest religious art of the region. As one enters the inner monastery gate the first sight is the murals of Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra.

Also, Read Here:

Illustrating Ramayana Katha – Biranchi Narayan Temple at Buguda

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Next, are scenes from Krishna Leela and the Ramayana.

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The depiction of Anantasayi Vishnu is yet another major draw among the murals of the matha.

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One also finds the episode of Samudra Manthan or the Churning of the Ocean in the monastic wall.

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Among the decorative figures, the images of peacocks are eye-catching.

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The Kaliya Dahana scene of Krishna is yet another important mural of this monastery.

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Krishna and Rukmini

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Scenes from the Ramayana

However, sadly most of the murals are on the verge of extinction. The monastery is neither on the heritage trail.

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Gangamata Matha

Gangamata Matha located in Bali Sahi is yet another monastery where one can see traces of Puri murals of the 19th century. Belonging to Gaudiya Sect, the matha is located beside the sacred Swetaganga Tank.

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Like Bada Odia Matha here also one finds life-size murals of the Hindu Trinity (Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra) at its entrance.

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In the next panel, the mural boasts child Krishna along with the depiction of forest environment. There are also depictions from the scenes of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

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One of the Finest Wooden Panels at Gangamata Matha

In Indian mural tradition, Odisha played an important role as a link between south and north. However, unlike other mural traditions, such as Vijayanagara, Cholas and Nayakas of South and Orchha and Bundi of Rajput north, the Puri paintings have hardly drawn attention. One of the major concerns is their preservation from the sultry tropical weather and human interference. However, before they have vanished completely it is critical to preserve them from their further decay with the help of art restorers.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Appliqué – Celebrating Colours of Odisha

Think of the famous Rath Yatra or Car Festival of Puri that is held every year in July – August. Think of the brightly coloured chariots of Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Balabhadra and Sister Devi Subhadra. Think of the gorgeously colourful appliqué sheets that are used to protect the gods and goddesses from the Sun and the Rain when they are out on the street to meet their maternal aunt Devi Gundicha. That is how the story of chandua (the Indian version of appliqué) began in Jagannath Dham.

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Rath Yatra of Puri 

According to Wikipedia, ‘Appliqué is ornamental needlework in which pieces of fabric in different shapes and patterns are sewn or stuck onto a larger piece to form a picture or pattern’. Appliqué is commonly used as decoration, especially on garments, but also in canopies, wall and door hangings, quilts, covers for royal bullocks and horses, umbrellas, banners, etc.

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India boasts a great diversity of appliqué craft, the prominent regions being Gujarat, Rajasthan, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Kashmir, Manipur and Himachal Pradesh. Each of these regions has its own uniqueness in styles and fabrics used.

Chanduas are curated by a hereditary caste of a community called darji, who trace their roots to Jagannath cult somewhere around 1000 CE when they first started creating chanduas for the rituals of Lord Jagannath and the Ratha Yatra. In due time, they became sevayatas or temple servitors and were patronized by the Gajapati Kings of Puri for their craft that became a hereditary occupation.

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Kandarva

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Images are from Kalabhoomi – Odisha Handicraft Museum Exhibits

Also, Read Here:

Kala Bhoomi – The Soul of Utkala

They settled in Puri and also in Pipli apart from 50 villages that are scattered in the region. From then on they have been putting together several small pieces of cloth to make designs that are so joyfully colourful and impeccably symmetric.

Travel Tips

Pipli is a small town on old Bhubaneswar – Puri Highway at a distance of 20 km from Bhubaneswar and 40 km from Puri. The new bypass is about a km away from the town. There is signage for Pipli after the Toll Gate while driving from Bhubaneswar towards Puri.  While at Pipli do visit Jabar Khan’s shop on the Main Road called Diamond Applique. (http://www.diamondapplique.com/).

For accommodation, Pipli does not have many options but the nearby Bhubaneswar and Puri offer plenty of choices. A traveller can also explore the nearby Dhauli Hill, the famous Buddhist site of Mauryan Era and Aragarh Hill, yet another important Buddhist site. To visit Pipli booking a cab from Bhubaneswar/Puri is a better option as most buses passing through Pipli are overcrowded.

For modern applique work at Puri meet Shri Debi Nanda at his residence cum workshop in the address below.

D.P.Nanda
Kundheibent Sahi, Near Bhagvat Club
Panch Chaura, Puri

Phone – +91 9437166369

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A Darji in Work at Pipli 

The uniqueness of appliqué creation lies in the carefully created motifs of birds, animals, flowers, leaves and other geometric patterns that are stitched onto a base cloth used to make artistic products, like umbrellas, wall hangings, gardens or beach umbrella, lampshades and other utility items.

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The Bazaar Street of Pipli with a colourful display of Applique Work

However, traditionally the appliqué items were used during the procession of the deities in their various ritual outings. Items like chhati (umbrella used in religious functions and processions), tarasa (heart-shaped banner mounted on a stand) and chandua (canopy) were used for the purpose.

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Tarasa

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Cahati

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They also made batuas (cloth bags of semi-circular shape) and sujni (embroidered quilt). Colour combination of traditional items consisted of black, red, yellow and green.

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Batua

Artistic motifs such as leaves, flowers, animals (elephant, lion and tiger), birds (parrot, duck, swan, peacock) and astral bodies such as Rahu (the demon that swallows the sun and moon during eclipses), sun and moon were cut out from a single piece of cloth and then fixed to the base material with the help of various stitches in embroidery. The decorative repertoire of traditional Chandua crafts has been mainly influenced by temple motifs of Odisha.

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Depiction of Rahu

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Traditionally chanduas have also been used as palanquins during Dola Purnima and folk dances like ghoda nachha.

Also, Read Here:

Dola Jatra – The other Rath Yatra

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Over centuries, the small town of Pipli became a hub of appliqué craft and started catering to the demand of kings, nobility and the Jagannath Temple.  Historically, Pipli was a centre considerable trade in rice and cloth. The town was seized in 1621 CE by Emperor Shah Jahan when he was advancing from Deccan to Cuttack and then to Bengal in revolt against his father. From then on Pipli became also a settlement of Muslim communities, who since then have also been involved in appliqué trade.

Today the traditional chanduas are mainly replaced with the new variety of items in order to meet the present taste of people and market demand. A New colour combination such as blue and turquoise have also evolved with time.

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Mr Jabar Khan, a celebrated chandua artisan of Pipili explains in the film below on his personal journey, and concerns for the craft’s survival.

In 1980, there was a remarkable shift in appliqué craft of Odisha from traditional to global. Mr Debi Prasanna Nanda, a leading craft innovator and entrepreneur based in Puri was a young man than when he was approached by one of his American clients to create an appliqué based on Mexican traditional themes. Debi Babu saw this as an opportunity and hence agreed to the proposal. As he narrates in the film he succeeded in 80 to 90 percentage in executing the work.

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In modern appliqué craft, the enhanced effect is gained by supporting pieces of coloured fabric in predetermined layout and sequence. The patch edges are then sewed. Unlike the traditional ones, which are mainly carried out by machines, modern appliqué work is done by hands.

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Modern appliqué work revolves around needlework. Designs or representative scenes are created by attaching small pieces of cloths to a larger piece of bright or contrast colour fabric. There are however three important elements – stitches, strips and patchwork.

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The product range includes wall hangings, pillow covers, bedspreads, bags, umbrella, saris and party canopies. These have become quite popular and adorable in urban households and in corporate spaces. The designs are timeless representing both traditional as well as modern art decor.

Chandua craft is Odisha’s timeless heritage. But it is not a static craft. Its journey has always been synonym with creativity to address the changing time and the taste of people. But its core essence has always been its deep association with Jagannath Cult of Puri, one of holiest tirthas for Hindus of India and worldwide.

Author: Jitu Mishra

  He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

Dola Jatra – The other Rath Yatra

When world was water, you became a tireless vessel of the Vedas.

You, in Pisces form, Keshava: conqueror of the world, Hari!

 

When this heavy earth you carried on your callused tortoise back, how venerable you were, Keshava: conqueror of the world, Hari!

 

A blemish on the hare-marked moon, the earth became as on your tusk: you held us when a boar, Keshava: conqueror of the world, Hari!

 

With nail on lotus hand you cut the bee-like Hiranyakashipu.

What a lion-man, Keshava: conqueror of the world, Hari!

 

A marvellous dwarf, Keshava, you outwitted Bali: from your toenail water poured to bless the people: conqueror of the world, Hari!

 

Bhrigu’s lord, you made in blood of Kshatriyas the people bathe.

As evil left, the heat declined: conqueror of the world, Hari!

 

In Ráma’s body, you have hurled around you heads of Rávana, a blessing of the war, Keshava: conqueror of the world, Hari!

 

You carried beauty as a cloud and shone as wielder of the plough that struck with fear the Yamuná: conqueror of the world, Hari!

 

Kind as Buddha, you refused to take the sacrificial life of animals despite our customs: conqueror of the world, Hari!

 

In Kalki’s body you became a sword to scourge the foreign people, comet-like in fire, Keshava: conqueror of the world, Hari!

 

You, in a decay form, Keshava, are the comfort of our life. Hear the poet Jayadeva, conqueror of the world, Hari!

Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda

Sometime in mid 17th century CE, a group of natives from a small village called Harirajpur (located on the outskirts of modern Bhubaneswar) had gone to Puri to witness the annual Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath.  It was love at first sight for them. The spectacular scenes of Lord’s procession on the Grand Road of Puri (called Bada Danda in Odia) inspired them to conceptualize a similar event in their village. Upon returning to Harirajpur the village elders sat together to brainstorm which led to the birth of an idea widely celebrated as Dola Jatra, a festival that is celebrated after Holi in March every year to welcome Basanta, or the spring.

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In Odisha, the temple deities are not passive and socialise just as we do. The conception of Dola Jatra revolved around this very idea of a get-together of temple deities in an open space called Melana Padia. This also allowed devotees to assemble in large numbers for darshan at one place. They need not go to the various temples located in different villages and towns.

Also, Read Here:

Sahi Jatra – Puri’s Holy Carnival

Travel Tips

Harirajpur, a major venue for Dola Jatra is located on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar near Jatni or Khorda Road Railway Station. But it is not the only place. There are other villages too nearby Harirajpur, such as Bacchara near NISER and IIT Bhubaneswar where Dola Jatra is celebrated with great pomp and festivities but the days may differ. Check with the locals before the melana starts.

While at Harirajpur also make a trip to Pipli, the main production centre of Chandua or Applique craft. In fact, the chanduas used for the vimanas come from Pipli.

Also, Read Here:

Appliqué – Celebrating Colours of Odisha

Harirajpur does not have staying options. However, one can make Bhubaneswar (20 km) as the base for exploring Harirajpur and Pipli along with other villages and the city itself which is widely celebrated as Ekamra Kshetra or the City of Temples. Bhubaneswar is well connected with rest of India by road, rail and air. The city is also a shopper’s delight and heaven for seafood and sweet rasagolla lovers. For an authentic Odia, thali try at Odisha Hotel (branches at Saheed Nagar and near Infocity) and the upmarket Kanika Restaurant of Mayfair Lagoon.

odia thali A delicious Odia Thali at Kanika Restaurant of Mayfair Lagoon  

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While conceiving Dola Jatra at Harirajpur, the festival of Dola Govinda Utsava of Jagannath Temple, Puri was kept in mind. Jagannath is worshipped as Dola Govinda during Dola Purnima. Both Jagannath and Goddess Bhudevi are placed on the Dola Bedi.

Celebrated on the full day of Phalguna, the temple sevayatas and devotees apply abhira (natural dry colours) to them. Spring is welcomed through this festival and celebrated with pomp and gaiety.  It is also referred to as Bastantautsava or the spring festival.

Dola Jatra is also celebrated as a victory of good over evil through the performance of Prahlada Nataka (a form of folk theatre), especially in South Odisha.

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Prahlada Nataka or the Play of Prahlada is a theatrical rendition demonstrating the faith of child prince Prahlada, who worships Vishnu despite the evil machinations of his father. The play is thought to have been adopted from a classical text popularized by Raja Ramakrishna Deva Chotarai, a feudal ruler of Ganjam in the mid 19th century. A special mask endowed with great power is worn by the actor who plays Narasimha, the man-lion incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who ultimately destroys the wicked king.

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Celebration of Prahlada Nataka in Odisha

Prahlada Nataka is on the verge of disappearing like many other folk art forms of the country. Most of the performers have shifted to other occupations with changing time. However, even of what is left, there is an inclusion of many modern elements, such as electronic lights and digital sound. Traditionally, the troops would perform on a bleacher-like platform perched in an open field or in a temple compound. The performance included dialogues and songs accompanied by the music of mridangam, drums, harmonium, wind instruments (mukta veena), cymbals and conch shells. In the climax, the actor playing the character of Prahlada becomes possessed. He must be forcibly restrained by attendants from inflicting harm on the person of the actor playing the king. Symbolically, when the king is played by Vishnu, the order is restored in the universe.

Before the congregation, the temple deities are taken around to houses in the village, where uncooked bhoga (food offerings) is offered to them. The idols are carried on decorated palanquins, called vimana and the procession is accompanied by singers and musicians, called ghantuas in Odia. The daily round of procession continues for four days and is known as chacheery.

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On the fifth day, the idols from village temples of a locality or cluster assemble at melana padia. The entire atmosphere is reverberating with devotional music performed by ghantuas, bhajans, and ghoda nacha (dummy horse dance). In ghoda nacha, a dummy horse made from wood, beautifully painted and surrounded by colourful cloths is used as a prop. People from nearby villages gather in large numbers to play abhira with their gods. There is a strong belief that the natural colours used in abhira have medicinal properties that heal skin diseases.

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Preparation in Melana Padia

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Paschimasambhu Somnath Temple at Harirajpur is not an architectural wonder, but its religious significance cannot be under estimated. The temple is dedicated to Shiva and while talking to its trustee and head priest Shri Lakshmidhara Mahapatra, I discovered that the idea behind Dola Jatra is not just confined to the celebration of the swing of Radha Krishna but it has something to do with the syncretic cult of Hari-Hara or Vishnu and Shiva which has been the dominating aspect of Odia religious life for last 1000 years.

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Mural in Temple

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Paschima Sambhu Temple

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The Temple Pond

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A Shrine in Harirajpur Melana Padia

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Cleaning of Deities

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Cleaning of Deities

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Melana Padia

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Melana Padia

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Ghoda Nacha

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Ghoda Nacha

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Ghantuas

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Gods are Taken to the Vimana

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Gods are Taken to the Vimana

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Gods are Taken into the Vimana

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Paschima Sambhu Temple Complex – Tulsi Vrindavati

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On the day of the Melana, I was in the temple to witness and document the entire process – from the preparation of Vimana and cleaning of idols till the gods being taken to Melana Padia in the wee hours. Here is the film that shows the sequence.

Raghurajpur – An Open Air Museum

Can anyone ever think of ‘Odisha’ without thinking of Lord Jagannath. No way!! Rhythms of Odia life deeply revolve around scores of rituals related to Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subadhra throughout the year.

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The trinity that resides in Puri celebrates festivals as any of us do. In the month of June, when the weather becomes excessively humid and unbearable, the deities are brought out from the temple for a holy bath. After the bathing ritual, the deities are traditionally believed to fall ill and are kept in a sick room for 15 days. During this period, no pilgrims are allowed to do the divine darshan. Historically, there was a need for substitute images for the public view and to which prayers and rituals could be offered. Anasara Pati, a painted sheet of cloth, depicting the deities used to be the substitute image meant for prayers by the pilgrims during the period of illness.  These patachitras were prepared by the master artists of the Chitrakara community.

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Anasara Pati – Image Courtesy: Prateek Patnaik

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Jatri Pati

The preparation for the making of Anasara Pati would begin on the auspicious day of Akshaya Trithiya. On this day, a Chitrakara would receive a piece of cloth to prepare canvas from the temple administration. When he would complete the painting, the family priest would come to his house to perform a puja of the Pati in the presence of all his family members. A day after this puja, a priest from the Jagannath temple would come to his house with a garland and accompanied by people carrying ghanta (gong), chalti (ritual umbrella) and kahali (pipe). Another puja would be performed at his house before the Anasara Pati would be rolled and tied with a piece of black cloth. The Pati would then be carried to the Jagannath temple by the Chitrakara in a ceremonial procession. This tradition of Anasara Pati goes back to the time of King Anangabhima Deva, who ruled Odisha between 1190 and 1198 CE.

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In Puri, there is a belief that a pilgrimage to the town is incomplete unless the pilgrim takes back with him/her five Patas of Lord Jagannath, five beads, five cane sticks and nirmalya (dried rice from the temple kitchen). In Bengal, as a ritual, every pilgrim returning from Puri, gifts one of these Patas and a few grains of the dried cooked rice, Mahaprasada, to his/her friends and relatives.

Though, Chitrakaras throughout history had deep connection with the temple and its rituals at Puri, in the 19th century, they fell into the trap of middlemen who exploited their situation adversely. They lost their source of livelihood and homesteads and started to look for other sources of employment. Many of them became daily wage labourers in betel-leaf gardens, carrying water and head loads of soil while some became masons and others agricultural labourers.

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Depiction of Pana Baraja – Betle Leaf Garden in Raghurajpur

It took more than a generation and the enterprise of an American lady called Helena Zealy, who was in Odisha between 1952 and 54, to revive this precious art form. Helena, while learning Odia in Puri, met Panu Maharana, a Chitrakara trying to eke out a living by selling a few paintings to pilgrims and tourists on Puri beach. She was mesmerized by the sublime beauty of incredible Pata paintings and its vivid depiction of mythological lores and legends. She then established a strong bonding with the Chitrakaras of Raghurajpur, a village full of artists, 10 km from Puri on Puri-Bhubaneswar Road. Along with the master craftsman, Jagannath Mohapatra, she devised a marketing strategy for the promotion of Patachitras as souvenirs and the sustenance of art and artists on a local level. A gurukul ashram was set up in Raghurajpur where young artists were trained in the art and later a co-operative society that took care of the export of the Patas to countries far and wide.

 

 

Raghurajpur

The word Patachitra is derived from the Odia words Pata, which means cloth, and Chitra which means picture. Chitrakaras of Raghurajpur mostly use colour pigments obtained from minerals and a few from vegetable extracts. For white, conch shells are the main source, which are bought from the fishermen. The yellow pigment is extracted from a mineral – Orpiment (Arsenic sulphide). The mineral is ground into fine powder and then made into a thick paste by adding a little water and mixing with mortar and pestle. Glue is than added to the thick paste and made into small tablets and dried. Hingula (crude cinnabar), used for blood red, is available in mineral stone form and when pulverized yields a bright red. It is made into a paste and then into tablets. Chitarakaras also use Geru (red ochre) stone, which at first is finely ground, mixed with water and then allowed to settle. The water containing the pigment is boiled till it becomes a thick paste and then made into tablets after adding glue. Black pigment is obtained from lamp black. A wick lamp is lit with Polanga, a kind of oil and above it is placed a brass plate filled with water. After thirty minutes of burning, the soot gathered on the back of the plate is scraped off and glue is added. Blue is obtained from indigo, which is sold in tablet form. Before a Chitrakara begins painting, the colour tablets are soaked in water and then used after the canvas is dried and hard enough for etching. A gummy paste of boiled tamarind seeds and powdered shells or granite is plastered over the stretched cloth in layers to harden the surface.

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Some of the popular themes found in Patachitras are the Vesas (costumes) of Jagannath, Kanchi-Kaveri expedition of King Purusottama Deva, Dasavatara (ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu), Krishna Lila, Rasa pictures and themes from Ramayana and Mahabharata. Once used exclusively to adorn the walls and precincts of the Lord Jagannath temple in Puri, today the lively art and its symbols are etched onto the walls of the houses of the master artists in Raghurajpur. The symbols and style has been adapted to etch on palm leaves and also on the Papier-mâché sculptures and carvings.

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Thanks to an initiative by INTACH and the state government, the entire village of Raghurajpur and the neighbouring Danadashai, have been turned into a crafts village, a living museum throbbing with creativity and pulsating with the colours of nature. All the houses here belong to master artists who are involved in some art form or the other.

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Lord Brahma

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A Gurukul

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Chaitanya Mahaprabhu being received by the King of Puri

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Chaitanya Mahaprabhu

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Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in Puri

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A Shop

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Lord Krishna at Vrindavan and Mata Yasoda

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A Scene from the Mahabharata

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Sharada Ritu (Autumn Season)

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Rural Life

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Krishna and Radha

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Raghurajpur is not just known for patachitras; it is equally known for a dozen other art and crafts, such as palm leaf etching, papier-mâché masks, and ganjifa.

 

 

It is also the birthplace of Gotipua, a dance that is performed by pre-teen boys dressed as graceful feminine dancers. Gotipua is the seed dance from which the classical Odissi dance was developed. Not just a village of national awardees but also the birthplace of the wizard Kelucharan Mohapatra, Raghurajpur is a village where art is in the air, soil and water.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com